From the archives: Published first in February 1, 1995 as Thackeray of ‘Free Press Journal’
There is some talk that if the SS-BJP combine wins the elections, Mr. Bal Thackeray may be persuaded to be the chief minister of Maharashtra. Though, at the moment, such a possibility seems as unlikely as Mrs. Sonia Gandhi becoming the prime minister of India, they do say that in politics you should not discount anything. After all, at one stage, who would have thought that Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter would be the prime minister and that his grandson would succeed her. Or, for that matter, that Telugu and Tamilian actors and actresses, now old and blown out of proportion both in mind and body, would become a chief ministers.
I, for one, have nothing against Mr. Thackeray as chief minister. He would be the first chief minister whom I had known in his earlier and more humble days. Like Vir Sanghvi having known Rajiv Gandhi in his days at the Doon or wherever. The duffers of Doon, as Mr. Nana Chudasama once put up on his not always wit and wisdom hoarding at Marine Drive.
Mr. Thackeray, of course, was never humble, not even in his days as cartoonist at 21, Dalal Street, which is how the Free Press Journal was known. Friendly, yes; poor, definitely, but humble – no. He looked very much as he does today, a bit of a sad sack. Most cartoonists look like that (except Sudhir Dhar and Mario Miranda), if you were to look at them, you would not know where all the humour generated from.
He sat in the corner, by the window, to get the natural light, almost directly opposite the trading ring of the Share Bazaar, though immune to its sounds. All day he sat there, behind thick dark clouds of cigar smoke, peering myopically at his works. I do not know what he did for lunch, probably brought it with him, more probably did not eat at all.
The reporter’s room was on the way to the exit, and everybody had to pass through it. In the evening Mr. Thackeray would pass through, still behind his cigar, accompanied by Ajit Merchant, the film page editor. They were always together, at least on their way out, one a Maharashtrian, who was to become a fanatic Maharashtrian, the other a Gujarati, happy and happy-go-lucky, who was to die young.
Bal Thackeray did not do pocket cartoons, that was Laxman’s preserve, and, later, when others started doing them, they were poor imitations of Laxman. Thackeray did the big political cartoons. I did not much care for them, but readers liked them, and politicians were influenced by them, and his fame was spreading abroad. Foreign papers were picking up his cartoons.
We were all very proud of Mr. Thackeray. Not because he was to become the chief minister of Maharashtra, but because he was our staff cartoonist and the Free Press was a lovely paper in those days, filled with talented journalists.
Copyright: Busybee, courtesy Farzana Contractor